In the whole world, there’s probably no city I’d like to visit more than Istanbul. As it has been for centuries, the city is historic, vibrant, and at a geographic and cultural crossroads.
Recently, while researching potential trips to Istanbul, I came across a series of historic photos, all via the local government.Some of these images — such as the one above — are, of course, simply old photos of the city and capture a long-passed period. Notice in the photo above the steam ships and street cars, with the Hagia Sophia way in the background. Note also that the photo is labeled “Istanbul” in the bottom left corner.
This next picture (above) however, appears to be a postcard from 1901 — before Constantinople officially became Istanbul in 1930. (The name change was memorably chronicled in the song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which was famously covered by They Might Be Giants.)
The name Constantinople comes from the Roman emperor Constantine, who made the city his eastern capital in the 300s.
Over the centuries, people referred to the city by a variety of names. In my case, my interest was probably first piqued while studying English literature and coming across the name “Byzantium,” notably in William Butler Yeats poem “Sailing to Byzantium” (and other poems).
Today, Istanbul is a massive metropolis of more than 14 million people. The Turkish government lists the population at 12.5 million in 2007, and at a mere 1 million in 1945. Which means Istanbul has experienced astonishing growth and is now the largest city in Europe. It’s also home to more people than New York City and Los Angeles, combined.
Knowing how much Istanbul has grown makes these images that much more fascinating. When these photos were snapped and the sketches drawn, the city in some cases had a difference name. Compared to what it would become, it was still very small. Culturally, the world and Istanbul were different places.
These images thus depict bygone eras, but ones that like many before them no doubt left their mark on this fascinating city.
— Jim Dalrymple II